“One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure” is perfectly true, when finding discarded pieces and revitalising them to become shabby chic items.

If the piece is heavily damaged, the first thing I do is remove all hardware and place aside carefully. Wipe or dust with a clean rag and then, using warm water and cloth, gently clean the areas that have tougher spots of dirt. Now, sanding is probably going to be the next step if the item is made of wood and has rough, splintered or deeply stained places. If the item is painted and you wish to repaint it; make sure all runs, bubbles, and scaly paint is sanded smooth or removed. To remove piled up, repainted over and over layers, use fine steel wool or 100-grit sandpaper. As you work on cleaning up the old paint, you will use finer and finer grit sandpaper and/or steel wool the closer you get to bare wood.

There are exceptions to every rule and here is one: I love the “crackle paint” look. Today, we try to replicate this with special paints that automatically ‘crackle’ as they dry. You can find some nice examples of new furniture made this way on https://www.cheapupholsteredbeds.com. As old paint wears, it begins to degrade; causing the surface to pull apart over time, leaving an uneven, spider like surface. Unbelievably, this is considered desirable because, if it isn’t too badly deteriorated, this effect is very cool! I love it! In the case of keeping the crackle finish, sanding is out of the question! If you sand, you will lose this sought after evidence of age. So, to restore or save such a piece, gently dust, wipe down w/damp rag…again, very softly, and let it be. In some instances, it may be possible to paint the surface using clear verathane. This is a water-based sealer which will protect the paint just as it is without changing the appearance or texture.

If the surface of the item is too damaged; you’ll have to remove most of the old paint and sand to smoothness. Then, go ahead and try the ‘premade’ crackle paint. which can be found in just about any home improvement store or….as I’ve learned to do, paint your first layer of enamel paint, put the piece out in the sun and, before it’s completely dried, apply another layer….the newer application will “curdle” and pull resulting in, when it is dried and relaxed, the appearance of aged paint. I was given this tip by my dad’s friend who works for a lofts firm in Berkhamsted, he said he  came across this by accident and it has been working for him since then!

Some choose to leave mars such as I described, above, just as they are. Truly SHABBY but NOT chic. To obtain this “look,” I feel it is necessary to take the ruined finish down to bare wood and begin again. Prepare your project piece as I’ve described earlier. Then, you can “distress it,” or use paint in any number of ways to achieve the effect you want without having an end product that looks messy.

It’s distressing!

Distressing can be done in any number of ways. Because old, vintage and antique “farm” furniture (usually made of pine or chestnut, etc.) has been painted many times over; and bumped, thumped and, in general, ‘abused’ which is what adds to its charm…you might want to bump, thump and sand your way back in time. Just be careful not to do so too roughly. Just a little nick here, a sanding using more pressure to cause the appearance of constant use over the years gives that age old effect.


So distressing

This is a way to cause a piece to appear aged and weathered without looking beat up. Lightly sanding over a paint job that, otherwise, is not too bad, is one way to do this. Using fine paper, sand in the direction of the grain which will expose some of the natural wood through the existing paint. This gives that really cool age old appearance. Another way to do this is to use several colours of paint together, lightly applying each individually but not thickly. Paint one first; wait until it is dry, buffer it a little with steel wool or very fine sand paper, then apply the next colour. Blend it into the buffered areas but not totally; so that the first colour shows through…continue doing this to gain the effect you desire…which is what makes your piece completely unique and individual because no one else will have done it the same way!

Working on cast iron

Cast iron, oftentimes, is an amalgam of several kinds of metals resulting in an end product which can be brittle or uneven. When working on old pans, wall light fixtures, standing lamps, etc. It is very important to be extra careful as even the slightest “collision” or bump can cause the piece to break in half. Naval jelly is one of my favorite products to remove old paint and rust from cast iron things. Every process to clean and refurbish delicate lamps, lights, fixtures, etc. Should be done very gently and by hand. Brush off rust with fine steel wool, continue using metal cleaners such as brasso or wright’s metal cleansers. Some prefer to leave the ‘patina’ which is built up over decades. In this case, simply clean w/warm water and gentle dish soap and that’s it.

Naval jelly is an excellent rust remover on vintage finds such as old porcelain enamel cast iron kitchen or bath sinks. I found the greatest, heavy, 1930’s sink with dual drain surfaces on either side of the sink and thought, “ohhhhh, this would look so great in my farm kitchen!” Thus began the many steps necessary to bring the beautiful antique piece back to near perfection. First, clean clean clean! Then, using soft scrub bleach cleansers, gently rub the surface of the enamel to get rid of deeper stains, rust stains and lime, etc. There are harsher products but, i have a hard time using these as they can, if you ‘re not careful; eat into the surface of the enamel into the porcelain.; you’ve got a bigger problem to deal with.

But, don’t despair! This, too, can be fixed! Using a combination of porcelain and enamel fill-in, read the directions carefully and proceed step by step.

Next, on the bare metal surfaces (not the enamel or porcelain) use a hand drill with a brush attachment to work on the harder to remove rust. Gently but with pressure, move back and forth over the rusted areas applying the pressure evenly. Always wear a mask when doing this, and safety glasses, too.

Anyway, if the bottom and backside of the sink is in need of further repair before repainting, you’ll need your naval jelly, some steel wool and a strong arm. Clean the surface well, rubbing off as much rust and dirt as possible. Then, apply the naval jelly to the rusty areas. Allow to sit (according to the label) and then, wipe clean….repeat if necessary. When most of the rust is gone, prime and paint using rust resistant spray paint.

At this point, the things you’ve worked on should be ready for display and placement. Have fun!


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